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How to Write an Essay Outline: MLA and APA Styles

How to Write an Outline in MLA and APA

Outlining is a form of organization which is used among authors of all writing styles. The common organizational method allows writers to list all of their research and ideas in one place before the writing process starts. Understanding the general college essay outline can go a long way in getting your thoughts structured, as well as positive feedback from your professor. Take a look at this guide from our coursework writing services team to learn how to write an outline.

What Is an Outline?

An essay outline is one of the main planning methods when it comes to writing academic papers, scholarly articles, informative guides, novels, and encyclopedias. The everyday paper outline contains the headings: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion. Every source is organized by relevance to strengthen the writing process. There are various formats when it comes to outlining, but the main formats required for a college essay outline is MLA and APA.

Regardless of whether you’re writing an MLA or APA outline, the organizational process remains the same with some minor differences. The main difference being APA uses abstracts, as it requires one or two sentences per line. APA is used for humanities, as MLA is used more for social studies. Other than that, the simple outline remains the same for any kind of academic paper structure.

How to Write an Outline?

The most common college essay is 5 paragraphs. Thus, an easy way to remember the general format of a writing plan is to think of it as planning a 5 paragraph essay outline where students would write an Introduction, Thesis, Body, and Conclusion. Then, fit a total of 5 paragraphs within the basic structure. The same practice can be done with planning, except rather than paragraphs, it’s notes. The exact same method would apply to an argumentative essay outline and any other kind of paper structure throughout and beyond college.

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The Key-Elements to Outlining

  • Research & Notes: Before the writing process, it is essential to find credible sources and note them down. Search across credible websites, as well as academic search engines, Google Scholar or Oxford Academic, to find reliable references to include in an academic paper.
  • Prioritize Your Thesis: As the thesis statement is a summary of the entire paper, start prioritizing it before working on the other sections of the outline. The thesis can guide you along the planning and writing process.
  • Write Your Ideas: Assuming you have already written out the basic headings of an outline, write down all of the key points from your found sources in the Thesis and Body sections.
  • Where to Include References: For cause and effect, AP English examinations, SAT essays, admission essays, along with other formal writing styles, all of the references are included in the body section. Excluding reflection paper and analytical papers, where it’s acceptable to include a citation within the introductory paragraph.
  • Introduction: For most academic styles, the introduction is the opening line to the paper. Thus, it is essential to plan something catchy within the outline. As mentioned, writing styles, for example, reflection essay or analytical paper, allow for the use of citation as an opening.
  • The Conclusion: The entire paper should be summarized in the final paragraph, restating the thesis in the first sentence, adding suggestions, predictions, and/or opinions in the sentences that follow. As for the final sentence, it should summarize the goal of the paper.

General Outline Format

Here is an outline format from our business essay writing services professionals:

Title Page

  • Essay Title:
  • Student Name:
  • Professor’s Name:
  • Class (Optional)


  • Opening Paragraph.


  • Brief Description of the Entire Paper.
  • Link Sentence to the First Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 1

  • Evidence/Reference.
  • Explanation (Related to the Thesis).
  • Link Sentence to the Second Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 2

  • Evidence/Reference.
  • Explanation (Related to the Thesis).
  • Link Sentence to the Third Body Paragraph.

Body Paragraph 3

  • Evidence/Reference.
  • Explanation (Related to the Thesis).
  • Link Sentence to the Conclusion.


  • Summary of the Entire Paper.
  • A Conclusive Sentence.


  • Footnotes or Bibliography

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Outline Examples

We understand that it may be difficult to differentiate between an MLA & APA Outline. The methods both depend on the referencing styles. APA outlining makes the use of abstracts, as MLA uses sentence citations. In an MLA outline, a title page is not necessary. As the APA referencing style requires it, include it on the outline. Take a look at an outline example below to get a better idea.

MLA Outline Example

I. Introduction:
  • Introductory Sentence: Stonehenge is a vast hub for ancient history.
  • Link Sentence to the Thesis: Standing 13 feet high, it is one of the oldest structures in the UK.
II. Thesis:
  • Description of the Paper: The paper describes how Stonehenge was built and its purpose.
  • First Argument/Claim: Stonehenge was built in 3001BC.
  • Second Argument/Claim: Stonehenge is known to be a place for religious worship.
  • Third Argument/Claim: Other Stonehenge-like structures exist around Europe.
III. Body Paragraph 1:
  • Reference: The circulation ditch around Stonehenge is believed to have been constructed around the year 3000BC, according to studies.
  • Explanation/Claim: Around the end of stone-age, pagans got together and built the first segment to what has become stone-henge.
  • Link Sentence: Which brings up the matter of belief.
IV. Body Paragraph 2:
  • Reference: During the late Tudor era, most people believed that ancient Britons placed the stones for the sole purpose of religious practice.
  • Explanation/Claim: From the late 2nd millennium AD to modern day, the practice of Paganism is the common explanation for the reason why stone-henge was built.
  • Link Sentence: More evidence emerges regarding the mysterious structure.
V. Body Paragraph 3:
  • Reference: Around 1100 BC, Stonehenge-like stones emerged.
  • Explanation/Claim: The structure is believed to have been built by migrants.
  • Link Sentence:
VI. Conclusion:
  • Summary of the Paper: Overall, the ancient stones have caused great interest throughout human history with science and assumptions.
  • Conclusive Sentence: No one knows for sure how they were built.
VII. References:
  • “History of Stonehenge”
  • “Why Was Stonehenge Built?”
  • “Stonehenge Is Not Alone: 7 Ancient Megaliths You've Never Seen.”

APA Outline Example

APA Title Page
  • Title: The Dangers of Using Cell-Phones
  • Student Name: Jake Smith
  • Professor’s Name: Dr. Stephen Miller
  • Class (Optional): Class of 2019
  • Introductory Sentence: Mobile phones have taken a drastic effect on our daily lives in the worst possible way.
  • Link Sentence to the Thesis: The everyday use of mobile technology has gone out of control.
  • Description: The paper describes the regular dangers and negative effects on humans regarding cell-phone usage. The ordeal can be life-threatening, or simply socially depriving.
  • First argument: High amounts of cell-phone usage results in negative health consequences.
  • Second Argument: Cell-phone usage has a negative effect on human interaction.
  • Third Argument: Texting while driving is worse than drinking and driving.
Body Paragraph 1: Health-Risks Associated with Cell-Phones
  • Evidence/Reference: “Mobile phones communicate with base stations using radiofrequency (RF) radiation. If RF radiation is high enough, it has a ‘thermal’ effect, which means it raises body temperature. There are concerns that the low levels of RF radiation emitted by mobile phones could cause health problems such as headaches or brain tumors.” (“Mobile phones and your health”)
  • Explanation/Claim: The radiation from phones possesses cancerous elements after long-term usage. In other words, one’s long-term cell-phone usage can put him or herself at risk of terminal illness, or worse. There is still a lack of evidence to this claim as cell-phones have not been around for very long.
  • Link Sentence: Which brings us to how cell-phones are destroying human interaction.
Body Paragraph 2: How Cell-Phones Are Destroying Human Interaction
  • Evidence/Reference: “Sherry Turkle argues that the use of cell phones while in social situations affects the quality of human conversation. Turkle says that it makes people less open and honest in conversation. She also says it makes people less empathetic. She uses a school of children as an example, stating that the children do not seem to be able to understand each other or show empathy toward each other.” (“Cell-Phones and Human Interaction.”)
  • Explanation/Claim: Mobile phone usage has gotten to the extent that humans are no longer communicating. Families go out to restaurants, cafes, and parks without interacting with each other due to their addiction to cell-phones. Humans have also possessed far less empathy compared with 15 years ago due to the missing interaction that could have been obtained during this time period. This shows mostly in school children who have been born into this way of life.
  • Link Sentence: Apart from that, cell-phone usage while driving also comes with life-threatening risks.
Body Paragraph 3: Using A Cell-Phone While Driving
  • Evidence/Reference: “The Transport Research Laboratory found that motorists who use their mobile phone to send text messages (...) the research found, with steering control by texters 91 percent poorer than that of drivers devoting their full concentration to the road.” (“Texting while driving is more dangerous than drink-driving.” )
  • Explanation/Claim: Using a mobile device while driving a motor vehicle has more of a drastic effect than drink-driving. On record, there have been more deaths around the world from text-driving and drink-driving.
  • Link Sentence to the Conclusion: Humans are completely addicted to mobile phones, to the extent of dangerous driving, health-risks, and a lack of interaction.
  • Summary of the Entire Paper: Restate the Thesis.
  • Conclusive Sentence: The continuation of excessive usage of mobile phones is becoming a major threat to mankind in every aspect possible.
  • “Mobile Phones and Your Health”
  • “Cell Phones and Human Interaction.”
  • “Texting While Driving Is More Dangerous Than Drink-Driving,”

We also recommend reading The Divine Comedy Summary, our readers like it a lot, and it may also be helpful in writing essays.


Regardless of the writing style, the main essay format acts as a helping hand in multiple ways to any kind of author. Knowing the general plan of an essay can highly benefit those writing their everyday college paper or dissertation by having all of the ideas and references on a writing plan. For example, a persuasive essay outline does not differentiate from a research paper plan. Thus, knowing the general outline format can make producing academic papers far easier by simplifying the entire writing process. Sometimes when you start writing an essay, you may encounter various difficulties like not understanding the topic, lack of time, too tired. You may ask yourself "I want to pay someone to write my paper. Can anyone help me?" Sure! On EssayPro we can give you a hand! Just leave us a request and we'll help asap.

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Are you still having difficulty outlining? Our writers are here to give you a hand to create a well-structured essay outline with references and unique ideas included. Regardless of the subject, academic level, or outline format required, we have got you covered. Click on the button below if you have the "write research paper for me" request or need any other help.

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